Commissioning service will offer ‘pastoral and prophetic’ witness to those seeking climate justice

The United Church of Christ Council for Climate Justice will host a virtual Climate Action Commissioning Service on Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 1 p.m. ET.

The service will celebrate prophetic witness and ministries across the UCC in the cause for climate justice. Nellis Kennedy-Howard, who has served as a teaching pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is a prominent leader in the environmental justice movement, will preach.

The virtual event also will serve as a launch and look ahead at the UCC Environmental Justice Ministries’ 2024 programs.

The UCC environmental justice minister the Rev. Brooks Berndt is inviting anyone who is dedicating time and effort to addressing the climate crisis to attend.

“I think it can be easy to become so focused on the injustices faced and the urgent need for action that we can neglect to create space for the kind of sustenance and support that our faith tradition can provide,” he said. “To sustain ourselves in this work, we need to create spaces such as this more and more.”

Pastoral and prophetic

A major focus of the commissioning service will be both the “pastoral” and “prophetic” needs in the quest for climate justice, as illustrated in the work of the event’s preacher. In addition to her faith-based roles, Kennedy-Howard has worked as director of equity, inclusion and justice at the Sierra Club, served alongside Winona LaDuke as co-executive director of Honor the Earth and founded Asdzą́ą́ Consulting, a Navajo consulting firm that assists organizations and leaders in becoming more effective and equitable.

“Kennedy-Howard not only has a deep knowledge and understanding of environmental justice, but she also exemplifies someone whose ministry is simultaneously pastoral and prophetic,” Berndt said. “For this event, it was extremely important that one possess both of these sensibilities. In terms of the prophetic dimension of ministry, the event is clearly about taking action in the public square to advance climate justice. At the same time, as a commissioning service, we need someone with a pastoral spirit who is mindful of the spiritual wellbeing and needs of those who are facing such an immense crisis.”

Because the enormity of combatting climate change can overwhelm people who care deeply, Berndt noted that this service is an opportunity for restoration and renewal for advocates.

“Otherwise, we can become bruised, battered and burned out by the demands of the ministry to the point where our wounds and diminished spirits inhibit our effectiveness,” he said.

Next phase

Berndt explained that the UCC Council for Climate Justice determined the need for a sustained climate action plan after a “season of discernment” last year.

“The first phase of the plan was the Climate Action Assembly in November at which we heard proposals for initiatives and campaigns that were rooted in General Synod resolutions,” he said. “This is truly a member-driven and member-sustained movement within the UCC.”

Now, as 2024 begins, a new phase of the action plan will bring many new opportunities. Those include:

  • The Vote for Climate Hope Art Contest. Congregations can begin registering to receive more information here. Submissions will be accepted between March 1 and April 16.
  • Climate Hope fellowship grants. Applications are available here, due March 1.
  • The Dollie Burwell Prophetic Action Award. Applications are available here, due April 9.
  • Annual Earth Day Summit. Bill McKibben will keynote this livestreamed, hybrid event that will be held April 20 at Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Register here.

Many other programs and initiatives will also be coming in 2024, related to recent General Synod resolutions, the Climate Hope campaign and more. Learn more here.

Kayla Berkey contributed to this story.


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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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